Turkiye and the US have similar views on many aspects of the situation developing between Russia and Ukraine.

The United States’ decision to stop backing the controversial EastMed pipeline indicates that it wants Turkiye to focus on easing tensions that are brewing over Ukraine, experts say. 

The EastMed pipeline was proposed to connect Israeli gas fields to Greek-administered Cyprus and Greece. The project was seen as Europe’s answer to reducing the dependency on Russia for energy supplies. 

But the 1,900 kilometre-long pipeline was expensive and required difficult negotiations as its route would have crossed parts of the Mediterranean Sea, which Turkiye claims to be its own. 

Turkiye was deliberately excluded from the multi-billion dollar project, angering Turkish policymakers. 

Even though the US was not directly involved, former President Donald Trump’s administration lent political support to the EastMed project. 

Multiple reports suggest that President Joe Biden’s officials have told Israeli and Greek counterparts that Washington is no longer backing it. 

The US embassy in Greece dropped any mention of EastMed from a recent policy statement and therefore rendered moot the importance of transnational electricity cables.

This development comes at a time when Russia has amassed 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine and the possibility of war, which could drag the US into an armed conflict, has become all too real. 

“I believe the US wants to end escalation in the eastern Mediterranean,” says Dr Oktay Tanrisever, an international relations professor at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara. 

“It has been helping Turkiye and other partners to focus more on Ukraine and the Black Sea region, where Turkish cooperation is crucial.” 

Ankara’s relations with Washington have been tense in recent years. The US has backed the YPG, an offshoot of the PKK terrorist group in Syria.

In its more than 35- year terror campaign against Turkiye, the PKK – listed as a terror organisation by Turkey, the US, and the EU – has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.

Turkiye has also taken some steps that have rubbed its NATO ally the wrong way. The 2019 delivery of the S-400 missile system from Russia resulted in Turkiye’s expulsion from a programme to co-develop the F-35, a new generation fighter jet. 

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says that Ankara favours the inclusion of Ukraine and its neighbouring countries into NATO.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says that Ankara favours the inclusion of Ukraine and its neighbouring countries into NATO. (Reuters Archive)

The US had backed the alliance of Israel, Greece and Greek-administered Cyprus centred on the EastMed pipeline, to counter Turkiye’s influence in the Eastern Mediterranean region, says Tanrisever. 

“At the time, hydrocarbons seemed to be a priority for the United States and Israel. Now, that doesn’t seem to be the case, especially after Turkiye’s deal with Libya,” he says. 

In November 2019, Turkiye and the  UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Libya, signed an agreement demarcating maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea, which is part of the Mediterranean. 

That allowed Ankara to lay claim to the part of the sea where the EastMed pipeline was proposed to pass through. It also showed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s willingness to take a hard stance on the issue. 

Russia’s ability to take advantage of tensions in the Mediterranean has pushed US policymakers to change their position, says Tanrisever. 

Leaders in Europe and the US are on the edge as prospects of conflict on Ukraine’s border with Russia have increased. 

Turkiye has called for restraint and has asked both the Ukrainians and the Russians to avoid a military confrontation. 

Ankara has intensified efforts to ease tension while Erdogan is expected to speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming weeks.

“It is a great opportunity for Turkiye to improve relations with the US,” says Matthew Bryza, a former US diplomat. 

“There’s obviously suspicion (between the two NATO allies) because of the S-400 sales.” 

The US would like Turkiye to continue its military support of Ukraine, he tells TRT World

Turkiye has sold dozens of Bayraktar drones and missiles to Ukraine. The two sides have drafted deals on naval ships, and the joint development of aircraft and engines. Turkish companies are some of the largest foreign investors in Ukraine. 

At the centre of the Ukraine crisis is the Russian demand that Kiev should not be included in the NATO alliance. Russia and Ukraine share borders and Moscow does not want a hostile state on its doorstep. 

Turkiye's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says that Ankara favours the inclusion of Ukraine and its neighbouring countries into NATO. 

“The US would want to see Cavusoglu’s continued strong support for NATO enlargement,” says Bryza. 

Turkiye also opposes Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, which is part of Ukraine. 

Bryza says that there’s no visible coordination between Turkiye and the US on the Ukraine crisis at the moment, as Washington is busy trying to align other allies, such as Germany and France, against Russia. 

“I think [US state] secretary Antony Blinken is not thinking as creatively as he could about how Turkiye [could] be helpful in this situation,” he says. 

“Unfortunately, Turkiye is still seen in Washington as a problem to be managed, rather than a NATO partner.” 

Source: TRT World